One unforeseen result of the Tea Party movement is the ascension of Chase Whiteside, a 22-year-old student journalist from Ohio. Dressed in colorful shirts and ties when he’s on camera, Whiteside has become a new progressive media darling with his reports from conservative political events. His interviews at Tea Party gatherings, a Sarah Palin book signing, and Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally in Washington, D.C., have racked up over 4.9 million hits on YouTube as of mid September.
New Left Media—as Whiteside and filmmaking partner and Wright State University classmate Erick Stoll call their endeavor—began as a reaction to the fevered health care reform debate in the summer of 2009, when Fox News fed its audience talking points about death panels and a rationing of services. Covering a town-hall meeting on health care in Columbus, Whiteside and Stoll found attendees repeating the Fox News “Obamacare” positions. “It’s not like they all had the same ideas just out of the blue about the health care bill,” Whiteside says. “They were getting them from the same place. We were fascinated by this idea, the consistency of the media narratives.”
Unlike progressive talking heads, Whiteside is not doing all the pontificating in his videos, shot by Stoll. Microphone in hand, Whiteside asks attendees if they’ll answer a few questions, simply telling his would-be subjects he’s a journalist—a reporting method sometimes criticized on comment boards—and his interview subjects do all the work of hanging themselves by their own tongues.
New Left Media’s interviews—picked up by sites like Joe.My.God and The Huffington Post—highlight how effective right-wing media outlets have been in convincing people that President Obama is not American-born and that the government hopes to curtail freedom of religion and speech.
“The Tea Party represents a movement away from conservative social politics,” he says. “I’ve never heard anyone bring up gays at the rallies, except to say they should be welcome in the Republican Party.”
The only people genuinely concerned with whom Whiteside sleeps with are his growing cadre of gay fans, whose letters he publishes on his website, ChaseWhiteside.com. Answering questions on everything from the future of journalism to his own circumcision, Whiteside offers as much honesty as the Tea Party members he talks to on camera.
In his typically frank manner, Whiteside says he’s grown weary of covering the Tea Party and hopes to transition to long-form filmmaking. Whiteside and Stoll, who is straight, have already made a documentary about the 2009 ballot initiative that ended marriage equality in Maine.
“If I reach a point where I’m known so much that I won’t be able to do the interviews, that’s OK,” Whiteside says. “We’ve had a hard time getting funding for larger projects, but it’s our hope to move on to those as soon as we can.”